Ryne Sandberg always said he just wanted a chance to manage a big league club. He has that now, even if it isn't with the one team he most wanted to manage.
Sandberg's No. 23 flies from the right-field flagpole at Wrigley Field. He would have loved to manage the Cubs if Jim Hendry or Theo Epstein had given him the chance.
Since they didn't, the Hall of Fame second baseman carries one extra bit of motivation into his new job as interim manager of the Phillies. Sandberg can stick it to his old team by turning into the second coming of Frank Robinson.
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He won't have to wait long to see them, either. The Phillies visit Wrigley the weekend of Aug. 30-Sept. 1. He probably still will be the interim manager then but have no doubt, he's going to get his multiyear contract and chance to turn around a team that lost 19 of its last 23 under Charlie Manuel.
Sandberg was named manager on an interim basis Friday mostly as a way to keep the focus on Manuel, who carried the Phillies to five National League East titles and a victory in the 2008 World Series.
With President Dave Montgomery and senior adviser Pat Gillick setting the tone, the Phillies are one of baseball's best-run franchises. Gillick and general manager Ruben Amaro hand-picked Sandberg to be Manuel's successor after Hendry clung to Mike Quade when Sandberg was positioned to take over the Cubs.
Sandberg already has managed Domonic Brown, Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf and other young players who will be essential to the Phillies becoming competitive again after a slide to .500 last season and a dive toward 90 losses this year. He's the perfect guy to handle the next few seasons, which figure to be difficult ones after Amaro and the team's ownership kept sinking dollars into a post-prime nucleus of players.
Robinson is the last man inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player who entered into a significant second career as a manager. He went to winter ball to learn to manage but was hired as a player-manager with the Indians in 1975, never having to serve as a minor league manager or a coach en route to his big league job.
Sandberg, doubted in part because he did not wear his ambition on his sleeve as a player, has worked his way to the job the way .225 hitters do. He spent four years riding buses and planes in the Cubs' system, climbing from low-A Peoria to Triple-A Iowa, and then two more as the Phillies' Triple-A manager before joining Manuel's staff as third base coach this season.
"He went back and started at the lowest level you can start and worked his way back," said Cubs radio analyst Keith Moreland, who played with Sandberg with the Cubs. "I think it was really important for him to get back in the big leagues as a coach (with the Phillies). I think that really helped him get into this position to be a big league manager. Now the work comes.''
Hendry should have given Sandberg a shot to manage in 2011, and might have if the Cubs had not strung together a misleading 24-13 finish after Quade had replaced Lou Piniella the season before. Epstein could have righted a wrong by bringing Sandberg back from the Phillies' system when he replaced Hendry but he wanted Dale Sveum, with whom he had worked before, and not a franchise icon, who down the road could be difficult to dismiss.
For what it's worth, Epstein made the right call. Sveum, hired with the security of a three-year contract, understands that his bosses are looking a long way down the road in trying to build a team loaded with star players younger than 26.
Sandberg could have done that job, but with his resume and reputation could he have endured 100-loss seasons? That's debatable.
The Phillies aren't that much better at this point but they want to be. Witness the decision they just made to sign Chase Utley to a long-term contract rather than trade him. They have another big decision to make on Roy Halladay after the season but all signs point to Montgomery continuing to support an effort to win around guys like Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon.
With first baseman Ryan Howard a physical wreck, that won't be easy. But Sandberg always said all he wanted was a chance. He has one, and he earned it the hard way.
Tribune reporter Fred Mitchell contributed.